The phrase has seen better days is an idiom that dates back hundreds of years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom has seen better days, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
Has seen better days is an idiom that describes something that is worn out, broken, or is otherwise in poor condition. Related phrases are have seen better days and had seen better days. The idiom has seen better days often carries a connotation of wistfulness, reflecting on something or someone’s prior glory. The phrase has seen better days has been in use for hundreds of years. Originally, the phrase has seen better days described a person who had been wealthy, but had fallen on hard times. William Shakespeare is credited with inventing the sentiment in his play, Timons of Athens published in 1607: “As ’twere a knell unto our master’s fortunes, / ‘We have seen better days.’ “
Standing at the corner of 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore, the lakefront neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side where I grew up, it’s obvious that this once-important commercial and public crossroads has seen better days. (Fortune Magazine)
East Allegheny High School is an ordinary high school campus located in a tidy middle-class neighborhood that has seen better days economically. (The Richmond Times-Dispatch)
There are billboards along the highway, big signs outside Oracle Arena, and even some well-meaning graffiti on warehouses that have seen better days: “We Love U,” says a painting, with a heart and a rendering of a Warrior who is probably supposed to be Steph Curry, although it could be anyone, the artist not being devoted to realism. (The National Post)
As for the offending comment, press boxes are too often stuffed with middle-aged men whose physiques have seen better days. (The Dallas Observer)